Music industry welcomes new laws in California restricting the use of lyrics in criminal proceedings

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By | Published on Monday 3 October 2022

California State Flag

The American music industry has welcomed the signing into law on Friday of new rules in California that will restrict the use of lyrics as evidence in criminal cases in the state’s courts. Both the Recording Academy and the Recording Industry Association Of America applauded the development, which will likely empower those campaigning for similar legal reforms elsewhere in the US.

The new laws in California – known as AB 2799 or the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act – address concerns that an increasing number of criminal cases in America have used a defendant’s creative output as evidence against them. This tends to disadvantage those who make rap and hip hop, because people are often prone to assume that rap lyrics are more rooted in reality than lyrics written by artists in other genres.

When Californian state senators voted on the new laws in August, RIAA Chief Mitch Glazier wrote to Toni Atkins, the current President Pro Tempore of the Senate, noting that: “Rooted in imagination, creative expression’s greatest capacity is to lift us out of the real world and to present us with the unexpected, the unlikely, and the unthinkable. Hyperbole and fantastical imagery are customary, and often necessary, elements of that creative expression”.

“Bob Marley and Eric Clapton understood this when they sang about shooting the sheriff”, he went on. “Johnny Cash understood it when he claimed to have ‘shot a man in Reno just to watch him die’. The Beatles weren’t ones to truly subscribe to the notion that ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’. And no one truly believed that Freddie Mercury ‘just killed a man’ in Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’”.

“Yet, when rap and hip hop artists adhere to this time-honoured tradition of make believe”, he continued, “their lyrics are too often – and unfairly – taken literally, stripped of the poetic licence afforded other genres. While such mischaracterisation may be uneventful in everyday music consumption, its application in criminal proceedings can skew the truth and destroy artists’ lives”.

The new laws in California don’t outright stop lyrics and such like from being used as evidence in criminal cases, but they will “require a court, in a criminal proceeding where a party seeks to admit as evidence a form of creative expression, to consider specified factors when balancing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial danger of undue prejudice”.

The Senate voted in favour of the new laws in August and – with the state’s Assembly having already voted through the proposals – the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act was just awaiting the signature of California Governor Gavin Newsom.

As he signed the new rules into law on Friday, Newsom stated: “Artists of all kinds should be able to create without the fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution. California’s culture and entertainment industry set trends around the world and it’s fitting that our state is taking a nation-leading role to protect creative expression and ensure that artists are not criminalised under biased policies”.

In his statement welcoming the legal reforms, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr said: “Today we celebrate an important victory for music creators in the state of California. Silencing any genre or form of artistic expression is a violation against all music people. The history that’s been made in California today will help pave the way forward in the fight to protect creative freedom nationwide”.

Meanwhile, Glazier said in a new statement: “We applaud Governor Newsom on this pivotal decision that will allow all creators to express themselves and follow their artistic vision without barriers of prejudice. The RIAA has been a vocal advocate for AB 2799 because all too often rap and hip hop artists have suffered for the same kind of hyperbole and imagery other genres routinely use without consequence. With the signing of the California rap lyrics bill into law, voices that may have been stifled are now fully open to expression”.

Similar legal reforms were approved in the New York Senate earlier this year but didn’t get voted on in the Assembly before the current session of that state’s legislature came to an end. However, those reforms are expected to be re-proposed during the next session. New laws that would achieve something similar on a US-wide basis have also been proposed in Washington, although they seem less likely to go through than state-level reforms.

Although there have been many criminal cases in recent years in which lyrics have been cited as evidence in court, one of the most high profile current cases where prosecutors are relying heavily on the defendants’ creative output is that in Georgia against Young Thug and Gunna.

Obviously the legal reforms in California won’t directly impact on that case, although the two rappers’ lawyers will likely use the wider debate around the problems with lyrics being used as evidence in criminal proceedings as a tactic for challenging the prosecution’s arguments in court.


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Court rules against SXSW in dispute with insurer over COVID cancellation class action

Business News Legal Live Business

By | Published on Monday 3 October 2022


A US judge last week concluded that the insurers of South By Southwest are not required to cover the costs that the festival incurred when dealing with a class action lawsuit in relation to its COVID-caused cancellation in 2020.

District judge Robert Pitman basically accepted the recommendations that magistrate judge Susan Hightower made earlier this year in relation to the dispute between SXSW and Federal Insurance Co.

The SXSW music conference and showcase festival was one of the first major music events to cancel as the COVID pandemic first started to spike in the US back in 2020. Ticket holders were told that they could defer their tickets to either the 2021, 2022 or 2023 editions of the festival.

However, some ticket holders reckoned that they should have been given the option of a cash refund, and they filed a class action lawsuit accusing the festival of, among other things, breach of contract.

That lawsuit was ultimately settled. But the whole thing prompted a second lawsuit, after Federal declined to cover SXSW’s legal costs in relation to the class action. Because it’s alway fun when lawsuits result in lawsuits.

Federal said that SXSW’s insurance policy had a professional services exclusion and that applied in this case. For its part, SXSW said that the insurer was employing an “overboard interpretation” of that particular exclusion. However, in a ruling in May, Hightower sided with the insurance firm.

It was for then for Pitman to decide whether to take Hightower’s recommendation. SXSW urged him not too, arguing that the magistrate judge – like the insurer – had also interpreted the exclusion clause in the insurance policy too widely. But those latest arguments in the case were not successful.

Pitman’s ruling last week states simply: “On this date, the court adopted US magistrate judge Susan Hightower’s report and recommendation concerning plaintiff SXSW LLC’s motion for partial summary judgment and defendant Federal Insurance Company’s motion for summary judgment”.

That means “the court’s order denied SXSW’s partial motion for summary judgment, and granted Federal’s motion for summary judgment. The court dismissed SXSW’s claims”.


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Pioneer DJ parent company acquires stake in DJ Monitor

Business News Deals Labels & Publishers

By | Published on Monday 3 October 2022

AlphaTheta x DJ Monitor

AlphaTheta – the parent company of the Pioneer DJ hardware company – has acquired a 25% stake in DJ Monitor, which provides audio ID technology – especially to the music industry’s collecting societies – for tracking music usage at venues and events, especially in the dance music space. Under the new deal, DJ Monitor will work closely with AlphaTheta’s royalty distribution platform KUVO.

“Music creators are at the core of the electronic music community, so it’s absolutely vital that they get paid when their music is played publicly”, says AlphaTheta CEO Yoshinori Kataoka. “Fair royalty distribution enables artists to keep making music that DJs want to play and audiences want to hear”.

“At AlphaTheta Corporation, we’re passionate about using our technical expertise and global reach to support music creators”, he goes on. “It’s a natural fit for us to partner with DJ Monitor, a company that shares our vision and determination to ensure artists are paid fairly. We look forward to working closely with them on the development of KUVO, among other exciting projects”.

DJ Monitor CEO Yuri Dokter adds: “Having pioneered club and event monitoring through music recognition technology since 2005, DJ Monitor has become the de facto standard for collective management organisations around the world, pushing transparency by providing auditable data. With club music embedded in our DNA, our partnership with AlphaTheta will create the most credible and robust system to maximise electronic music creator incomes”.


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Fat Joe sues his accountants over allegations they misappropriated millions

Artist News Business News Legal

By | Published on Monday 3 October 2022

Fat Joe

Fat Joe has sued his longtime accountants accusing them of fraudulent activities that have resulted in millions of dollars being misappropriated.

The rapper, real name Joseph Cartagena, had been working with accounting firm BDO USA for about a decade before he became aware of what he describes as “a slew of irregularities”. His lawsuit targets the company as well as his specific accountant, Andre N Chammas, and an account executive called Vanessa Rodriguez.

According to the lawsuit filed last week, those “irregularities” include “numerous delinquent and unpaid mortgage and bill payments; the booking of revenues that were never deposited into plaintiffs’ accounts; discrepancies in the amount of money that plaintiffs have paid to BDO for services rendered; payments to unauthorised American Express accounts that are not Cartagena’s; and payments to Cartagena’s American Express account from unrecognised bank accounts”.

The legal filing adds that, when Cartagena asked BDO about the various irregularities, the accounting firm “ignored his pleas or made up stories to cover their trail. Rather than cooperate with a longtime client and offer to lend assistance, BDO and Chammas have employed a different strategy: stonewall and delay”.

“Now plaintiffs know why BDO and Chammas have been trying to obstruct their investigation”, it goes on. “Plaintiffs are the target of a fraudulent scheme that BDO and Chammas – with Rodriguez’s assistance – have been orchestrating for years and that has resulted in millions of dollars in damages”.

The lawsuit concludes: “As a remedy, the court should order BDO and Chammas to immediately turn over all documents and information to which plaintiffs are legally entitled, as well as award damages, legal costs and fees, and all other appropriate relief against BDO, Chammas, and Rodriguez”.

The defendants in the case are yet to respond.


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A Greener Festival launches new sustainability toolkit focus on Mexican festival sector

Business News Live Business

By | Published on Monday 3 October 2022

A Greener Festival

A Greener Festival and Edinburgh Napier University are today launching a new online resource as part an ongoing partnership with the British Council which is seeking to help the Mexican festival sector make its events more environmentally sustainable.

The new online toolkit is informed by previous training sessions involving festival producers and promoters in Mexico, and also utilises existing knowledge and experience from the UK-based A Greener Festival initiative as well as academic work.

The aim is to help festivals based in Mexico and elsewhere to evolve their operations in a way that reduces the environmental impact of their events.

AGF Director Teresa Moore explains: “Facilitated by the British Council, our collaboration with Edinburgh Napier University provided a fantastic opportunity to bring together latest practice and thinking about the issues and challenges involved in creating sustainable events”.

“Through the training developed and delivered earlier this year we were able to learn about the Mexican context”, she adds, “the particular challenges they face in making their events greener as well as sharing our knowledge, practice and solutions from around the world. The online sustainability toolkit allows us to extend this work even further and reach many more festivals in Mexico”.

Meanwhile, Jane Ali-Knight from Edinburgh Napier University says: “It was an amazing opportunity to work with the British Council and a whole range of creative, innovative and diverse festivals from across Mexico”.

“The sharing of international best practice was a key aspect of the programme which benefitted A Greener Festival, Edinburgh Napier University and the festivals”, she goes on. “The toolkit was an excellent practical extension of the training and will be a great resource to festivals from Mexico and beyond”.


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